What We're Reading: Rare Disease Drug Development; Alcohol-Related Deaths; Health Plan Auto-Enrollment


Federal incentives fail to spur development of new drugs to treat rare diseases; alcohol-related deaths have risen steadily over the past several years; will CMS stop auto-enrolling low-income individuals in exchange health plans?

Rare Disease Drug Development Remains at Suboptimal Level

Despite greater availability of medicines for rare diseases that affect children, the development of new drugs to treat the over 7000 rare diseases that lack treatment has fallen behind novel indications of current therapies, according to a University of Michigan press release and study results from the journal Pediatrics. Drug manufacturers are often hesitant to produce pediatric rare disease drugs because of a lack of associated profit; however, the federal government offers tax incentives, testing grants, and a 7-year exclusivity period to spur their development. From 2010 to 2018, most pediatric orphan drug approvals were for existing drugs.

Alcohol-Related Deaths Are on the Rise

From 2000 to 2016, there was an almost 78% rise in deaths related to alcoholic liver disease in the United States, according to Forbes. Groups with the largest increases in alcohol-related deaths include American Indian and Alaska Native men and women, white women, and middle-aged individuals. Possible drivers behind this disturbing trend include increasing rates of alcoholism and heavy drinking at younger ages.

ACA Plan Auto Re-enrollment May Not Continue

CMS is considering discontinuing its practice of automatically re-enrolling some low-income individuals in Affordable Care Act (ACA) health plans whose coverage is subsidized, reports Modern Healthcare. Detractors worry the move could lead to a rise in uninsured individuals, pointing out the need for more consumer education. In 2018, the Trump administration came close to eliminating the budget for plan outreach altogether, when it made cuts of 90%. A particular sticking point is the use of manufacturer drug coupons counting toward a consumer’s annual out-of-pocket spending limit: health insurers and employer groups support CMS' idea to stop this practice, while the Service Employees International Union claims doing so could make medications unaffordable to many.

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